Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Bugs Not Gay, Just Confused

Oct. 21, 2013 — Many species of insects and spiders engage in homosexual behavior, like courting, mounting, and trying to mate with members of the same sex. But it is unclear what role evolution plays in this curious situation. Like heterosexual behavior, it takes time and energy and can be dangerous -- and it lacks the potential payoff of procreation.

Now Dr. Inon Scharf of Tel Aviv University's Department of Zoology and Dr. Oliver Martin of ETH Zurich have found that homosexual behavior in bugs is probably accidental in most cases. In the rush to produce offspring, bugs do not take much time to inspect their mates' gender, potentially leading to same-sex mating. The study, a comprehensive review of research on insects and spiders, was published in Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology.

"Insects and spiders mate quick and dirty," Dr. Scharf observes. "The cost of taking the time to identify the gender of mates or the cost of hesitation appears to be greater than the cost of making some mistakes."

Friends without benefits
In birds and mammals, homosexual behavior has been shown to have evolutionary benefits. It provides "practice" for young adults and maintains alliances within groups. Scientists have recently tried to find explanations for similar behavior in insects, suggesting it could serve to prepare for heterosexual courtship, dispose of old sperm, discourage predators, and distract competitors.

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